Notes From the Baltimore Writers’ Conference

Friday, November 30, 2007
by Jill Earl

There are few things that will cause me to rise well before the sun on a Saturday. Breakfast with a friend. Me time with my Mac laptop at Panera Bread. A road trip to adventure. Even a writers conference will do the trick, which was the case two Saturdays ago as I raced across town for the start of the Baltimore Writers Conference.

An annual event, the Baltimore Writers Conference is sponsored by both Towson and Johns Hopkins Universities’ M.A. in Writing programs and the CityLit Project, a non-profit offering writing-related events in the Baltimore area. After missing it for two years in a row, I was determined to attend the 18th annual conference. How could I not, especially with it taking place in my backyard? I looked forward to the sessions, networking with other writers and, of course, yet another opportunity to purchase more books. Never mind that I haven’t been able to sit on my loveseat for ages because it’s covered with books.

So, armed with coffee and a rather delicious mini bran muffin, I slid into a seat to hear the keynote speaker, Marion Winik, author of a number of books and articles and a past commentator on NPR’s All Things Considered. With a sly wit, Ms. Winik offered up hilarious experiences of her own journey towards her unique voice, along with a diagram to help writers explore the part of the world they may choose to write about. Besides taking writing classes to improve our craft and soliciting feedback from peers, Ms. Winik urged us to read avidly because, “If you’re going to make the thing, you’ve got to read the thing.”

More coffee and another muffin in hand, I focused on nonfiction and headed to my morning sessions of choice "Writing About People" and the "Healing Power of Memoir." In "Writing," Hopkins M.A. faculty, Dale Keiger, outlined how to create profiles that hold the interest of readers by taking the facts and figures of a person’s life and transforming them into a compelling story. Towson writing instructor, Diane Scharper, shared excerpts from her latest book, Reading Lips, a collection of essays from a variety of disabled writers. Examining their memoirs, we learned how factors such as details, honesty, and clarity along with accurate research can offer healing for a writer.

During the midmorning break, I went for my third (or fourth) muffin and a stack of books, scoring a coupon at an area bookstore.

I thought I heard my loveseat groan.

After lunch and a bit of networking---including reconnecting with my favorite college instructor, who asked me to consider attending a conference next spring---my focus turned to the business of writing.

Screenwriter Khris Baxter’s, "Art of Screenwriting and Adaptation," discussed how to transform works such as novels, short stories and nonfiction into successful screenplays, while making the effort to retain the essence of the original work. The last session, "The Business of Blogs," featured a panel of local writers navigating through the blogosphere, including Towson graduate, Brian Stelter. Now a reporter at the New York Times, where he edits a TV blog and reports on the media world, Stelter founded the highly successful, a blog about the TV news industry, and sold it to at eighteen. Key points were finding out your USP (unique selling point) to get traffic to your site, keeping them there with consistent posting and creating a distinct voice. The day ended with a wine-and-cheese reception and more networking. And once I got home, chocolate to help sort through my notes and figure out how to incorporate the wealth of information into daily writing life.

And next year’s conference? Oh, I’ll be rising again on a Saturday before the dawn. By that time, my loveseat should be cleared---to make room for more books.

Jill Earl


Anonymous said...

Sounds like a great day, Jill! Thanks for sharing what you learned and the excitment of the outing. :)

Anonymous said...

Very interesting! It sounds like you learned a lot and had a good time.

rr adventurer said...

The coffee and muffins sounded yummy! I am now envious of your couch.

Angela Mackintosh said...

Jill, bravo!!!

What an excellent report from the conference. You, my dear, have a knack for nonfiction. Very well written. I laughed about your loveseat! ;-)

I've never attended this conference, but it sounds fantabulous! What an array of speakers and expert advice. I love NPR's All Things Considered. In fact, I simply love NPR. My favorite show is This American Life with Ira Glass. I don't know if you read the blog post I did a while back, but I described attending an event in detail. It was AMAZING.

Thanks so much for sharing this. And truth be told, I love Panera too... but, I'm a muffin snob... I only eat the tops, like in that Seinfeld episode, lol. "Top of the muffin to ya!" Thanks for posting about muffins on the muffin. ;-)



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